Monday, October 4, 2010

On The Road Again...

I've been quiet lately, but I swear I have a good excuse. The best, in fact! As anyone who's spent thirty seconds perusing my website knows, I love to travel. Experiencing other places, learning about different people and their cultures, and seeing natural wonders firsthand keeps my brain nimble. It helps me appreciate all that I have, and gives me insight into the lives of others. While all this is important to writers, I think it's a great thing for all human beings to do.

For the next few days, I'll be posting photos from my most recent trip, a cruise of the Med.

First, however, a word of advice: If you are booking travel from the US to Europe, avoid SATA Airlines at all costs. I thought I was booking TAP (Air Portugal) and ended up on SATA, which is apparently a partner airline. I am not a big person, and I barely--I mean BARELY--fit in the seat, and this was for a flight from Boston to Lisbon. My poor husband, who's 6'4", really didn't fit. His knees were jammed into the back of the seat in front of him, and his feet were dangling in the air. It was awful. And yes, we did select seats before leaving Boston...the seat assignments weren't honored. Ditto on the way home. The way home was worse, in fact, because we had to fly from Lisbon to the Azores, get off the plane, go through THREE security checks, and then board the exact same plane to fly on to Boston. Horrendous. A direct quote from one of the gate attendants in Boston: "Honey, if you want on board you're going to have to shove." I kid you not. I should've known the flight would be from hell the minute I heard that. Of course, the very worst part of this is that we got NO frequent flyer miles for the trip. While TAP is a partner with United, and we booked thinking we were getting miles on United, SATA has no such exchange. If TAP puts you on a SATA flight, you're outta luck.

So word to the wise, people: SATA Airlines is short for SATAN.

BUT...after that, everything was fantastic! I've always been more into spending my money on experiences than on things, so if you can save your pennies and forgo that nifty J. Crew peacoat you've been eyeing or the latest XBox 360 game, I say this is the way to spend your cash.

Day One: Lisbon, Portugal!

The Med cruise left from Barcelona, Spain. However, being the little smarty-pants that I am, I discovered that I could book a 12-hour layover in Lisbon en route to Barcelona for the same cost as simply flying straight to Barcelona from Boston. (Now, that flight didn't work out so well, but the IDEA was a good one!) The DH and I hit the ground in Lisbon and headed straight for a friendly taxi driver, who took us to the Monument of the Discoveries, which honors Portugal's seafaring traditions. The view from the top is spectacular--you can see all of Lisbon, including the beautiful Jeronimos Monastery, which is just across the street.

Here's the Discoveries Monument:

And the view of Jeronimos Monastery from the top:

Of course, after climbing the Monument, we had to go to the Monastery. Saw the crypt of Vasco De Gama, walked around the chapel, and then entered the Cloisters. The Cloisters are a must-see if you're in Lisbon. Very peaceful and beautiful:

Afterward, we walked down the street to the famous Pasteis de Belem bakery. Their specialty pastry custards are to die for. I'm not even a custard fan and I ate more than one! Travel guru Rick Steves has raved about this place for years, so I was afraid it'd be overrun with tourists, but not so. I'd say it was about 30% tourists from the monastery and 70% locals when I visited. The line to buy pastry-to-go went down the block, but moved very quickly. If you don't have time to stop in and eat as I did, be sure you budget enough time to get through the pick-up line.

On a midafternoon espresso and pastry high, we left the bakery and hopped the streetcar to the town's main square, Praca de Comercio. After walking around the pedestrian area, we rode a full loop on one of Lisbon's old trolley cars. They're a lot like the cars in San Francisco, and I think they're even more fun. I leaned out the window to take this shot:

There were narrower streets than this on the route, but I didn't want to risk losing a limb (or my head) to take a photo. Finally, we walked around the castle area, took a few shots of Lisbon's rooftops, then walked down the narrow, cobblestoned alleyways back to the bottom of the hill below the castle.

Cue the rooftop shot:

Once we made our way back to the waterfront, we flagged a cab for the ride back to the airport. Lo and behold...out of the thousands of cabs in Lisbon, we got the same driver who'd taken us to the Monument of the Discoveries that morning. Good luck, I think, because the TAP Portugal flight from Lisbon to Barcelona was quick, comfortable, and relaxing. (AKA: Not from SATA(N).)

Next up, Montserrat and Barcelona, Spain!

(However, first a warning: There will not be many shots of Yours Truly in this travelogue. I married a wonderful guy, but he is a very, very bad photographer. As in, when I give him the camera, I end up with a picture of my shoes. Or half my face. Therefore, I long ago gave up trying to have my picture taken by the DH. Most of the photos you'll see of me were taken by random strangers I grabbed on the street. Thank you, strangers!)

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